5 Reasons Why Kids Need Special User Research

By april 19, 2013 Kids & research

Kids are special. There is no doubt about that. But does it explain why they also need special attention when it comes to user research? Here are 5 reasons why we need to start doing user testing with kids and why it’s very different than what we know from testing adults.

1. Kids form their own target group

I assume by now most product folks out there are familiar with the concept of user centered design. Exactly, UCD is the approach to product development with a clear focus on the people you design for. This means you have identified and specified your target group. You know their motivation and goals and you know how they go about reaching these goals. Ideally you have done some field research to actually get to know and observe them in their familiar environment and daily routines.

One of the most important lessons taught in user centered design is that you are not your users – far from it even. You are way too familiar with your own product and ideas and more importantly, you are extremely biased. That’s why it is essential to start a conversation with your users and involve them in the design process – to make sure you develop a product that they will love and buy.

Now, why are children any different? It’s simple: They are not adults. Kids form their very own target group with their own ideas, motives, abilities, limitations, and preferences. If we don’t learn to involve children in the design process of the products that we develop for them, how can we make sure these products have a positive impact?

Only when we recognize kids as autonomous target group, we can develop products that are fun, easy to learn, engaging, and support children in their development.

2.  Kids form a diverse target group

Kids are not only a different target group than adults. Kids are a very diverse target group themselves. We can assume adults to have the same or similar physical and cognitive abilities. Kids however differ tremendously in their development. Per age group you face different design challenges due to different physical, cognitive, and even social skills.

In order to build the right kind of product for the right kids, you need to know each age group by heart. For example, physical aspects that you need to consider are a limited eye-hand coordination, limited fine motor skills, hand size, etc. Some cognitive skills that differ between age groups can be visual, spatial, and analytical thinking.

3. You have to ask kids what they think to validate your ideas

You are not your user. Remember? And you are not a child either. That makes two important reasons why you should ask your actual target age group what they think. Show them your ideas and find out if they are:

  • appealing
  • interesting
  • fun
  • easy to understand
  • motivating
  • etc.

Adults usually have a more intrinsic motivation to use a product. They have goals and we try to design the product in a way that allows them to reach these goals as quickly as possible. For kids, this motivation is different. So should be our design focus. Digital products for kids need to be usable, but at the same time they must offer an extrinsic motivation to encourage kids to use them.

4. Put kids in charge and benefit from their unbiased creativity

Kids can be hilarious, they can be brutally honest, and they can be a pure joy to watch. Reason for all of it is their privilege that others care for and look out for them. Kids don’t need to worry about the consequences of what they say and they don’t care about what others think. They are free to drift in their creativity for hours or live in their own fantasy world.

When developing digital products for these kids, why try to put yourself in their shoes? Why not benefit from their own perception of the world and put them in charge?

5. Build products that kids love and parents appreciate

Kids have a very limited spending power. That’s a good thing because kids lack the ability to make rational buying decisions. It also leaves you with a second target group for your products: parents. It is not enough to get kids excited, you also have to convince parents that your products are valuable for their children.

A user centered design approach allows you to take both kids and their parents on board. Ask parents what they think about the media use of their kids. Find out how they think their kids would benefit from your product and use that knowledge to make digital products for kids that have a positive impact.

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